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How to season your own wood

Once upon a time, wood and logs were waste products that nobody wanted and were readily available, mostly for free. With the huge rise in popularity of stoves and open fires, the days of the tree surgeon dropping off a trailer full of logs for the price of a couple of pints is long gone. These days the cost of logs can be more than oil if you take into account the calorific value. That is not to say that cheap wood is not available.

I have found that owning a small trailer, bought on ebay for £80 and a second hand chainsaw, also found on ebay, was a handsome investment which has been paid back many times over. Please note a chainsaw is a dangerous tool that requires careful handling.

 

Sourcing the wood is the trick, pass the word around you are looking and are will to all the humping and people will always know a neighbour who’s back garden beech has lost some limbs in the last gale, or the golf club has dropped a sycamore, or the local farmer will let you take the old oak that came down 10 years ago in the top paddock. You usually have to sweeten the deal with farmers! Again ebay can be a good source of cheap logs.

 

A day shifting wood is hard work, but the satisfaction of contemplating your pile at the end of the day, especially holding a cold beer, is more than worth it.

 

The best time to gather your wood pile is in the spring, that way it has all summer in which to season and be ready for the cold winter ahead. If you are buying in unseasoned timber the price is lowest once the warmer spring days start, nobody else wants it then.

 

Cut the wood into maximum lengths that will fit your stove, cutting them shorter just wastes time and makes piles of sawdust. Splitting the logs is the interesting bit. The small “table top” log splitters are a waste of time, too slow and underpowered. A good splitting axe is far faster, the blade is wider than a felling axe and has a small tail on the cutting edge to help lever it out from the wood. A grenade log splitter (wedge) is also worth its weight in gold, but use it with a sledge hammer rather than the back of the axe head. When splitting look at how the grain runs and position of knots. Just accept that some pieces will be too difficult to split by hand, without half kill yourself, the chainsaw can be used to deal with these bits.

 

To season wood means to let it dry naturally, this means reducing the moisture content to around 20 to 25%. It can be measured with a cheap moisture meter.  As a minimum it will take all summer but some hardwoods can take 24 months. One mistake people make, is to place the wood inside a barn or garage. It is the flow of air through the wood that is the most effective means of drying; a warm summer wind will remove far more moisture than leaving it sealed up in a garage. This is where a well-designed log store comes into its own. It should have a roof to keep off some of the rain, the floor should be raised and slattered so the moisture laidened air can sink out on still days. The walls should also be slattered to let the air move through the stove.

 

Don’t worry about keeping all the rain off, it dries quickly. The aim is to remove the natural moisture (sap) from the timber. When in use it helps to have two stores or one store divided in halves, that way you can be taking from one whilst replenishing the other. A store full of wet logs is heavy; therefore good foundations will stop it sinking.

 

A well-constructed store, neatly stacked, can be a feature of a garden and doesn’t have to be hidden away. I use felt shingles on the roof, it easier than roofing felt and still cheap. The last thing is to locate it close to the house; you don’t need a 5 minute walk on a sleety December night because the log basket is empty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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